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Big Joe Turner

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Big Joe Turner

Biography Discography Videos


Rock and Roll Hall of FameRock and Roll Hall of Fame

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The premier blues shouter of the postwar era, Big Joe Turner's roar could rattle the very foundation of any gin joint he sang within -- and that's without a microphone. Turner was a resilient figure in the history of blues -- he effortlessly spanned boogie-woogie, jump blues, even the first wave of rock & roll, enjoying great success in each genre.

Turner, whose powerful physique certainly matched his vocal might, was a product of the swinging, wide-open Kansas City scene. Even in his teens, the big-boned Turner looked entirely mature enough to gain entry to various K.C. niteries. He ended up simultaneously tending bar and singing the blues before hooking up with boogie piano master Pete Johnson during the early '30s. Theirs was a partnership that would endure for 13 years.

The pair initially traveled to New York at John Hammond's behest in 1936. On December 23, 1938, they appeared on the fabled Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall on a bill with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, the Golden Gate Quartet, and Count Basie. Turner and Johnson performed "Low Down Dog" and "It's All Right, Baby" on the historic show, kicking off a boogie-woogie craze that landed them a long-running slot at the Cafe Society (along with piano giants Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons).

As 1938 came to a close, Turner and Johnson waxed the thundering "Roll 'Em Pete" for Vocalion. It was a thrilling up-tempo number anchored by Johnson's crashing 88s, and Turner would re-record it many times over the decades. Turner and Johnson waxed their seminal blues "Cherry Red" the next year for Vocalion with trumpeter Hot Lips Page and a full combo in support. In 1940, the massive shouter moved over to Decca and cut "Piney Brown Blues" with Johnson rippling the ivories. But not all of Turner's Decca sides teamed him with Johnson; Willie "The Lion" Smith accompanied him on the mournful "Careless Love," while Freddie Slack's Trio provided backing for "Rocks in My Bed" in 1941.

Turner ventured out to the West Coast during the war years, building quite a following while ensconced on the L.A. circuit. In 1945, he signed on with National Records and cut some fine small combo platters under Herb Abramson's supervision. Turner remained with National through 1947, belting an exuberant "My Gal's a Jockey" that became his first national R&B smash. Contracts didn't stop him from waxing an incredibly risqu� two-part "Around the Clock" for the aptly named Stag imprint (as Big Vernon!) in 1947. There were also solid sessions for Aladdin that year that included a wild vocal duel with one of Turner's principal rivals, Wynonie Harris, on the ribald two-part "Battle of the Blues."

Few West Coast indie labels of the late '40s didn't boast at least one or two Turner titles in their catalogs. The shouter bounced from RPM to Down Beat/Swing Time to MGM (all those dates were anchored by Johnson's piano) to Texas-based Freedom (which moved some of their masters to Specialty) to Imperial in 1950 (his New Orleans backing crew there included a young Fats Domino on piano). But apart from the 1950 Freedom 78, "Still in the Dark," none of Turner's records were selling particularly well. When Atlantic Records bosses Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun fortuitously dropped by the Apollo Theater to check out Count Basie's band one day, they discovered that Turner had temporarily replaced Jimmy Rushing as the Basie band's frontman, and he was having a tough go of it. Atlantic picked up his spirits by picking up his recording contract, and Turner's heyday was about to commence.

At Turner's first Atlantic date in April of 1951, he imparted a gorgeously world-weary reading to the moving blues ballad "Chains of Love" (co-penned by Ertegun and pianist Harry Van Walls) that restored him to the uppermost reaches of the R&B charts. From there, the hits came in droves: "Chill Is On," "Sweet Sixteen" (yeah, the same downbeat blues B.B. King's usually associated with; Turner did it first), and "Don't You Cry" were all done in New York, and all hit big.

Turner had no problem whatsoever adapting his prodigious pipes to whatever regional setting he was in. In 1953, he cut his first R&B chart-topper, the storming rocker "Honey Hush" (later covered by Johnny Burnette and Jerry Lee Lewis), in New Orleans, with trombonist Pluma Davis and tenor saxman Lee Allen in rip-roaring support. Before the year was through, he stopped off in Chicago to record with slide guitarist Elmore James' considerably rougher-edged combo and hit again with the salacious "T.V. Mama."

Prolific Atlantic house writer Jesse Stone was the source of Turner's biggest smash of all, "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which proved his second chart-topper in 1954. With the Atlantic braintrust reportedly chiming in on the chorus behind Turner's rumbling lead, the song sported enough pop possibilities to merit a considerably cleaned-up cover by Bill Haley & the Comets (and a subsequent version by Elvis Presley that came a lot closer to the original leering intent).

Suddenly, at the age of 43, Turner was a rock star. His jumping follow-ups -- "Well All Right," "Flip Flop and Fly," "Hide and Seek," "Morning, Noon and Night," "The Chicken and the Hawk" -- all mined the same good-time groove as "Shake, Rattle and Roll," with crisp backing from New York's top session aces and typically superb production by Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.

Turner turned up on a couple episodes of the groundbreaking TV program Showtime at the Apollo during the mid-'50s, commanding center stage with a joyous rendition of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in front of saxman Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams' band. Nor was the silver screen immune to his considerable charms: Turner mimed a couple of numbers in the 1957 film Shake Rattle & Rock (Fats Domino and Mike "Mannix" Connors also starred in the flick).

Updating the pre-war number "Corrine Corrina" was an inspired notion that provided Turner with another massive seller in 1956. But after the two-sided hit "Rock a While"/"Lipstick Powder and Paint" later that year, his Atlantic output swiftly faded from commercial acceptance. Atlantic's recording strategy wisely involved recording Turner in a jazzier setting for the adult-oriented album market; to that end, a Kansas City-styled set (with his former partner Johnson at the piano stool) was laid down in 1956 and remains a linchpin of his legacy.

Turner stayed on at Atlantic into 1959, but nobody bought his violin-enriched remake of "Chains of Love" (on the other hand, a revival of "Honey Hush" with King Curtis blowing a scorching sax break from the same session was a gem in its own right). The '60s didn't produce too much of lasting substance for the shouter -- he actually cut an album with longtime admirer Haley and his latest batch of Comets in Mexico City in 1966!

But by the tail end of the decade, Turner's essential contributions to blues history were beginning to receive proper recognition; he cut LPs for BluesWay and Blues Time. During the '70s and '80s, Turner recorded prolifically for Norman Granz's jazz-oriented Pablo label. These were super-relaxed impromptu sessions that often paired the allegedly illiterate shouter with various jazz luminaries in what amounted to loosely run jam sessions. Turner contentedly roared the familiar lyrics of one or another of his hits, then sat back while somebody took a lengthy solo. Other notable album projects included a 1983 collaboration with Roomful of Blues, Blues Train, for Muse. Although health problems and the size of his humongous frame forced him to sit down during his latter-day performances, Turner continued to tour until shortly before his death in 1985. They called him the Boss of the Blues, and the appellation was truly a fitting one: when Turner shouted a lyric, you were definitely at his beck and call.

-- Bill Dahl of All Music Guide.

Shake, Rattle & Roll
Live at the Apollo - "If you remember"
Low Down Dog

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1953Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz
1956Boss Of The Blues
1958Joe Turner
1958Rockin� The Blues
1959Big Joe Is Here
1960Big Joe Rides Again
1960Joe Turner And The Blues
1967Singing The Blues
1971Texas Style
1974Life Ain�t Easy
1974Trumpet Kings Meet Joe Turner [Live]
1975Everyday I Have The Blues
1976The Midnight Special
1977Things That I Used To Do
1977In The Evening
1982Nobody In Mind
1983Blues Train
1984Kansas City Here I Come
1985Patcha Patcha All Night Long
1986Rhythm And Blues Years
1996Have No Fear, Joe Turner Is Here


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1953 Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz

1956 Boss Of The Blues

01. Cherry Red
02. Roll �Em Pete
03. I Want A Little Girl
04. Low Down Dog
05. Wee Baby Blues
06. You�re Driving Me Crazy
07. How Long Blues
08. Morning Glories
09. St. Louis Blues
10. Piney Brown Blues

1958 Joe Turner

01. Shake, Rattle And Roll
02. Flip, Flop & Fly
03. Feeling Happy
04. Well All Right
05. The Chicken And The Hawk
06. Boogie Woogie Country Girl
07. Honey Hush
08. Corrine Corrina
09. Midnight Special Train
10. Hide And Seek
11. Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop
12. Crawdad Hole
13. Sweet Sixteen
14. Chains Of Love

1958 Rockin� The Blues

1959 Big Joe Is Here

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1960 Big Joe Rides Again

01. Switchin� In The Kitchen
02. Nobody In Mind
03. Until The Real Thing Comes Along
04. I Get The Blues When It Rains
05. Rebecca
06. When I Was Young
07. Don�t You Make Me High
08. Time After Time
09. Pennies From Heaven
10. Here Comes Your Iceman

1960 Joe Turner And The Blues

1967 Singing The Blues

01. Well Oh Well
02. Joe�s Blues
03. Bluer Than Blue
04. Big Wheel
05. Poor House
06. Piney Brown Blues
07. Mrs. Geraldine
08. Since I Was Your Man
09. Roll �Em Pete
10. Cherry Red

1971 Texas Style

01. TV Mama
02. Hide And Seek
03. I�ve Got A Pocketful Of Pencil
04. Rock Me Baby
05. Texas Style
06. Cherry Red
07. Tain�t Nobody�s Business If I Do
08. Money First

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1974 Life Ain�t Easy

01. Life Ain�t Easy
02. Plant Your Garden
03. So Long
04. For Growing Up
05. Morning Glory
06. Kick The Front Door In

1974 Trumpet Kings Meet Joe Turner [Live]

01. Morning, Noon And Night
02. I Know You Love Me Baby
03. TV Mama
04. Tain�t Nobody�s Business If I Do

1975 Everyday I Have The Blues

01. Stormy Monday
02. Piney Brown (KC)
03. Martin Luther King Southside
04. Every Day I Have The Blues
05. Shake, Rattle And Roll
06. Lucille

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1976 The Midnight Special

01. The Midnight Special
02. You�re Driving Me Crazy
03. So Long (it�s been good to know yuh)
04. I Left My Heart In San Francisco
05. I�m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter
06. I Can�t Give You Anything But Love
07. After My Laughter Came Tears
08. The Things That I Used To Do
09. Stoop Down Baby

1977 Things That I Used To Do

01. The Things That I Used To Do
02. S. K. Blues
03. Jelly, Jelly
04. Hey Little Girl
05. Shake It And Break It
06. St. Louis Blues
07. Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop
08. My Train Rolled Up In Texas

1977 In The Evening

01. In The Evening
02. Summertime
03. Sweet Lorraine
04. Too Late, Too Late
05. I�ve Got The World On A String
06. Chains Of Love
07. Corrine, Corrina
08. J. T. Blues
09. Pennies From Heaven
10. Two Loves Have I

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1982 Nobody In Mind

01. I Want A Little Girl
02. Nobody In Mind
03. The Chicken And the Hawk
04. I Just Didn�t Have The Price
05. How Long, How Long Blues
06. Crawdad Hole
07. Juke Joint Blues
08. Red Sails In The Sunset

1983 Blues Train

01. Crawdad Hole
02. Red Sails In The Sunset
03. Cock-A-Doodle-Doo
04. Jumpin� For Joe
05. I Want A Little Girl
06. Blues Train
07. I know You Love Me
08. Last Night
09. I Love The Way (my baby sings the blues)

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1984 Kansas City Here I Come

01. Down Home Blues
02. Since I Fell For You
03. Call The Plumber
04. Time After Time
05. Kansas City
06. Sweet Sixteen
07. Big Legged Woman

1985 Patcha Patcha All Night Long

01. Patcha Patcha
02. Blues Lament
03. You Got Me Runnin�
04. Kansas City On My Mind
05. The Chicken And The Hawk
06. I Want A Little Girl

1986 Rhythm And Blues Years

01. Miss Bump Suzie
02. The Chill Is On
03. I�ll Never Stop Loving You
04. Don�t You Cry
05. Poor Lover�s Blues
06. Still In Love
07. Baby I Still Want You
08. TV Mama
09. Married Woman
10. You Know I Love You
11. Midnight Cannonball
12. In The Evening
13. Morning, Noon And Night
14. Ti-Ri-Lee
15. Lipstick, Powder And Paint
16. Rock A While
17. After A While
18. Trouble In Mind
19. World Of Trouble
20. Love Roller Coaster
21. I Need A Girl
22. Teenage Letter
23. Wee Baby Blues
24. We�re Gonna Jump For Joy
25. Sweet Sue
26. My Reasons For Living
27. Love, Oh Careless Love
28. Got You On My Mind
29. Chains Of Love
30. My Little Honeydripper
31. Tomorrow Night
32. Honey, Hush

1996 Have No Fear, Joe Turner Is Here

01. Rocks In My Bed
02. So Long (it�s been good to know yuh)
03. Howlin� Winds
04. Woman You Must Be Crazy
05. How Come My dog Don�t Bark

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Graphics by YSM

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